December 21, 2023 - 1:15pm

The horror of being told that your child has been murdered is almost impossible to imagine. But on top of the maelstrom of emotions, from grief to disbelief, Brianna Ghey’s parents also had to endure discovering details of how the murder was carried out, exposing a savagery that’s sickening to read about. The transgender 16-year-old was stabbed 28 times with a hunting knife after being lured to a park near Warrington in February.

After her two killers were convicted yesterday, Brianna’s mother, Esther Ghey, responded with great dignity, praising her daughter and showing compassion for the killers’ parents. In the face of such grief, the proper response is surely to give the family space, and then to ask how two teenage children could have committed such a terrible crime.

If ever there was a moment to show restraint, then, it was in the aftermath of yesterday’s verdict. Yet a prominent activist immediately disregarded both the family’s grief and libel laws, recklessly tweeting a list of notable people who “helped kill” Brianna. Other commentators jumped in, linking the verdict to publication earlier this week of the Government’s advice to schools to adopt a cautious approach to “social transitioning”.

There was, meanwhile, little space for careful consideration of the facts. It has been disclosed that the male perpetrator was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and selective mutism, while the girl has traits of autism and ADHD. At their trial, it emerged that they shared a fascination with murder, torture and cruelty. Brianna was one of five potential victims on a “kill list” drawn up before the murder. A CPS lawyer said that the pair “appear to have been a deadly influence on each other and turned their dark fantasies into a reality”. 

There is every reason to approach such an extraordinary case with caution. It is still unclear whether Brianna was targeted because she was transgender or because she was socially isolated and more vulnerable than the other teenagers on the list. As soon as they began examining messages exchanged by the killers, Cheshire Police said they did not believe Brianna was murdered because she was trans. The judge’s view will not be clear until the sentencing hearing, which will take place in February. Until then, it is imperative that Brianna’s family is given space and time to grieve.

Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She has been Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board since 2013. Her book Homegrown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists was published in 2019.